George Bowden Leventhorpe Winery
This show was published 04 May 2007
This week we talk with George Bowden from Leventhorpe Winery in Leeds. Whilst the most northerly UK vineyard is Mount Pleasant in Camforth, Lancahire, Leeds as a viticulture area has quadrupled in size with 3 new vineyards planted in 2006. We have a chat with George about growing vines on the extreme edge of viticulture (and sanity!) and find out why badgers, birds and hedgehogs are as much a hazard as frost and fungi.
George is an ex-chemistry teacher and used to make wine with children in his classes. He said it was a great way of getting them to look at chemistry as more than just another lesson. However since since 1985, when he purchased Leventhorpe, he has been making wine within the Leeds city boundary.
His Seyval Blanc certainly holds its own. Rick Stein recommends it in his guide to the Food Heroes of Britain, while Oz Clarke declared Bowden's Seyval 2001 the best of the bunch in a televised blind tasting.
Seyval Blanc may be one of the best wines he makes but he has only 1 acre of Seyval Blanc out of the 6 acres he has planted. His main crop is Madeleine Angevine. It is similar to Pinot Gris with peaches, gooseberries and blackcurrant leaf. According to George it goes well with fish and Thai food. Other varieties he grows include Triomphe, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Rondo and Dornfelder. Being this far north has encouraged George to experiment with other varieties including Riesling, Chardonnay and even Sauvignon Blanc.
According to George, the only reason he can get away with growing this far north is by very careful site selection. Rain is always a worry but being under the rain shadow of the Pennines means only 22 inches of rain a year and is the lowest rainfall in Europe. What rain that hits the soil quickly drains through the shallow sandy loam, over sandstone rock.
The further north you go the lower the sun is in the sky, meaning what energy hits the vineyard is spread over a greater area. But Leventhorpe is south facing and on a slope giving it the maximum exposure to the sun. George also changes the trellising system as he moves through the vineyard to capture the heat within the vines canopy
The last weapon in Georges armoury is that Leventhorpe is not as susceptible to frost as other areas. He says that when a frost is forming the lay of the land means that a warm air bubble is caught under the cooler air giving a Temperature Inversion and protecting the vines from frost.
Leventhorpe is not the first winery in this area. In the Middle Ages York had St Mary's Abbey with 15 acre of vine run by the Benedictine monks. This survived until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henery the 8th on date?
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The music used for the UK Wine Show is Griffes de Jingle 1 by Marcel de la Jartèle and Silence by Etoile Noire.